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McDonald’s, South Grand and Hummers

Ronald McHummerApparently McDonald’s is now giving away toy Hummers in their Happy Meals:

This month McDonald’s is giving away toy Hummers — 42 million of them, in eight models and colors — with every Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal. That’s right: The fast-food chain that helped make our kids the fattest on Earth is now selling future car buyers on the fun of driving a supersized, smog-spewing, gas-guzzling SUV originally built for the military. Use the Ronald McHummer Sign-O-Matic™ to tell us what you think of this misguided marriage of two icons of American excess.

So this great site, Ronald McHummer, has a fun way to make your own McDonald’s sign. I thought I’d help them announce the new McDonald’s on South Grand that Pyramid Construction and Ald. Jennifer Florida lobbied so hard to move across the street to a site that once contained a large department store. Progress, St. Louis style.

– Steve


Urban McDonald’s in Toronto a Good Model for St. Louis

While I was in Toronto last month I happened upon a very urban McDonald’s in an older part of town, not unlike South Grand — one and two story commercial street with a grid of residential units behind. In valuing the pedestrian experience, Toronto has greater restrictions on drive-thru establishments than St. Louis. Wait, what I am saying — they actually have restrictions whereas we don’t. Click here to see Toronto’s guidelines.

For those just tuning in, we are getting a new McDonald’s on South Grand. The old location, which has an admittedly funky drive-thru set up, is going to move across Grand to the former site of an old Sears store that was razed in the late 1990s. You can read through the “McDonald’s on Grand” category if you want all the detail but basically what we are getting is a highly suburban McDonald’s design — a smallish building surrounded by parking — but due to pressure pushed up to Grand. I can already hear people saying it is better than the old McDonald’s because it is new and clean. I guess I’d just like us to have some actual urban standards, not just be content with replacing one suburban design for a newer suburban design when the old one gets tired and dirty.

So, back to Toronto.

Very urban city with a great transit system, relative to St. Louis. With so many transit riders auto use appears to be considerably less than in St. Louis — at least in the city center where I spent most of my time. They have simply retained so many more of the original storefronts that we razed decades ago when we decided every business needs to have their own dedicated parking.

IMG_3182.jpgArchitecturally speaking this McDonald’s at the corner of Dundas St. & Bathurst St. is nothing special (view map). It is how the ordinary building is placed on the site that is unique. The building occupies nearly all the width of the site along the North edge of the site (facing Dundas, shown above) with only a small sliver facing the other direction.

IMG_3173.jpgThe public entrance faces both public streets, not the parking area behind. Neighbors and those in the area are encouraged to approach by foot rather than get in their car. Those people that are driving cars will most likely use the drive-thru window anyway so why not accommodate pedestrians with the building entrance?

Again, architecturally this is nothing spectacular. But, the location of the entrance is very important in an urban/pedestrian setting. Arranging buildings in such a manner lends credibility to the pedestrian and transit user.

IMG_3171.jpgThe drive-thru ordering and service windows are kept to the back of the building out of view of the main intersection. The radii are a bit on the tight side by our standards but they drive the same cars we do so it should not be an issue. The ‘no parking’ area in the foreground is for when they need to bring out your order to you so as not to hold up the line. All in all a very compact and workable solution that balances the needs of auto drivers, the restaurant operator and urban/pedestrian interests along the public right-of-way.

IMG_3168.jpgThe parking lot is actually paid parking for the entire area. This is a good use of space and enables people to get out of the idea of every business having their own free lot. Park once, conduct your business in the area on foot and then return to your car when done. Having a private parking area shared with the drive-thru traffic makes sense but the urban planning is the same if this were free parking for McDonald’s customers. This McDonald’s has a single curb cut whereas our new McDonald’s will have three.

Additional photos of this McDonald’s can be seen on Flickr.

It may well be too late to salvage the South Grand location and get an appropriate urban design for the street. However, we need to look ahead and begin working on standards to return our city to streetscapes dominated by actual storefronts rather than parking lots. Auto parking is a necessary evil but it need now be on display 24/7 — it can be minimized, shared and placed out of sight.

– Steve


The Twisted Logic of Ald. Florida

The West End Word had a recent article on recalls in the city. One part, about 15th Ward Alderwoman Jennifer Florida, caught my attention:

Florida called the recall effort against her a “terrible distraction,” but said that the effort against her has not affected the way she does her job, other than to force her to spend a bit more money producing newsletters and progress reports to explain her position.

Oh my, she must now communicate with her constituents!!! Oh the humanity. How dare folks “force” her to explain her position. Of course, her position in theory should be based on the feelings of the community. Did she think she could just get elected, not communicate anything, and not have any issues arise?

“There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there, and I have to address that,” she said. “I’m trying to learn how to explain what I can and cannot do.”

The recall effort against Florida has been based on her support of a plan to move a McDonald’s franchise down the street from an existing location. Florida’s opponents say the move would be illegal, as the zoning for the new location does not allow a drive-thru, which is included in the design.

Florida said that the new location is commercially zoned, adding that there’s not a whole lot she could do to stop the move. “I think they thought I had more power than I actually have,” she said. “It’s just a small group of people who aren’t accepting [the move]. It’s like they’re trying to punish me for not getting exactly what they want.

I think someone needs to look in the mirror before talking about misinformation. Florida continues to downplay her role in the McDonald’s fiasco. After receiving substantial financial contributions from the officers of an entity seeking to profit in the deal, Florida took on an active role of making the project a reality. Her support, nearly to the point of being official spokesperson, did help influence the various boards that granted variances allowing the project to move forward. Had she remained neutral or opposed the drive-thru it most likely would not be happening now.

“I was always told recalls are about malfeasance in office or negligence. The reason why it’s in the charter is to cover corruption [in city politics]. But now it’s about not agreeing with an alderman’s position on an issue.”

I think if an alderman engages in criminal behavior we are not going to go through the recall process to remove them. Most often when a politician is caught with his/her hand in the candy jar or some other offense they typically resign amid charges of wrong doing. The recall process is in the charter to allow citizens to remove an elected representative when that person is no longer representing their interests. I believe that to be the case here and in a number of other recent recall efforts (Bauer, Roddy, & Bosley).

Florida said she suspects the recent rash of recalls stems from the citizens’ frustrations with federal and state politics. Because average citizens have little control over national issues, they instead vent their frustrations on local politicians, she said. “If you’re upset about the war in Iraq, you’re not going to recall President Bush,” she said. “Instead, you go after the people you have more control over.”

Florida can’t really be serious with this line of thinking, can she? She is suggesting that to be actively involved in local civic politics, including disagreeing with elected officials, is simply because we cannot impact issues on a state or federal level. Oh please! What a distorted view of the citizens of St. Louis! If we are not involved we are apathetic. If we are involved but disagree we are simply frustrated with others. How convenient for Ms. Florida to be so dismissive of everyone except those that agree with her. Open dialog about issues is the only way we will progress as a city but our elected officials don’t want dialog. They want status quo.

– Steve


New Blog Focuses on City’s 15th Ward

July 14, 2006 Ald Jennifer Florida, McDonald's on Grand, Politics/Policy, South City Comments Off on New Blog Focuses on City’s 15th Ward

A new blog called 15thwardstl.org has been started by local architect Steve Wilke-Shapiro, a resident of the 15th Ward. The blog’s subheading gives a good clue as to the focus: Politics, development, and civic life in St. Louis’ 15th ward.

Wilke-Shapiro had this to say about the blog:

“While inspired by my experience as part of the McDonald’s fight, I don’t intend for it to be a diatribe against Jennifer Florida. There are plenty of issues and opportunities in the 15th not directly related to her.”

That seems fair. I think he will bring some much needed attention and focus to all aspects of his ward. In the years I’ve known him he has always been extremely level-headed, thoughtful and passionate about the city. He has a few posts in place and promises many more from a growing list of topics.

– Steve


Board of Adjustment Upholds Conditional Use for McDonald’s Drive-Thru

Today the city’s Board of Adjustment upheld the earlier decision to grant a conditional use permit to allow a drive-thru to McDonald’s on the former Sears site.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to say but I’ve pledged not to use that kind of language here. So, I’ll just say this for now:

With development like this, I have serious reservations about the ability of the City of St. Louis to reach its full potential.

– Steve